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L'uomo che guardava passare i treni by…

L'uomo che guardava passare i treni (original 1938; edition 2002)

by Georges Simenon, Paola Zallio Messori

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6141315,860 (3.66)19
Title:L'uomo che guardava passare i treni
Authors:Georges Simenon
Other authors:Paola Zallio Messori
Info:Roma, Gruppo editoriale L'Espresso-Divisione la Repubblica, c2002

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The Man Who Watched Trains Go By by Georges Simenon (1938)

Recently added byprivate library, pgsola, markbell, Noumena_Press, drangelo, claudio.marchisio
Legacy LibrariesErnest Hemingway
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    The Stranger by Albert Camus (thorold)
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English (6)  Italian (3)  Spanish (2)  Portuguese (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (13)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This was diverting, though not my favorite of the six or so Simenons I have read so far, all on the New York Review Books imprint. Kees Popinga, a buttoned down manager of a ships chandlery in Holland, goes on a bit of a rampage after his boss tells him that he has run the business into the ground. This is the same business, the watchword for rectitude and probity in the little port town in which it operates, into which Kees has invested every cent of his savings. Kees subsequently (inadvertently?) kills a hooker by the name of Pamela whom he has lusted after for years when, bereft of his illusions, she laughs at him. Then he goes to Paris and becomes a subject for the tabloids ("Sex Fiend") as he remains at large for several weeks. However, once the newspapers lose interest and relegate his story to inner pages, he starts to write letters to the editor in which he pathetically tries to keep the thrill alive; his ostensible motive being to explain himself since they "have him all wrong." The book is troubled early on, in my view, by some hardboiled-sounding dialog, generally something the titles I've read are free of. I felt it was very good but lacking in action, and by contrast, too heavy on the ruminations of its protagonist, mostly rendered as free indirect speech. My favorite NYRB Simenons so far have been Dirty Snow and Strangers In The House. The latter being, in my opinion, dazzling on a sentence by sentence basis. Recommended with reservations. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |

While discussing Black Swan with friends the other day, I realized this novel has a similarity or two with Darren Aronofsky movies. Remember those movies ( Requiem for a Dream, Pi, The Wrestler, Black Swan ) where we have one or more characters going on with their lives when somehow things begin spiraling out of control. And how!. The Man Who Watched Trains Go By has a similar premise, except the transition in the protagonist's life is relatively more sudden. He steps around a corner from where there is no turning back.

Kees Popinga, the protagonist, has always done what is expected of him by the society, his family and his employer. He has built a stable and seemingly content life for himself. However, while trying too hard to be perfect, he has lost himself somewhere, forgotten who he really was and how he really wishes to live. He is tired and bored of being himself. He is bogged down by the monotony of his life, though he doesn't yet realize as much. One fateful night, his predictable life takes an unexpected turn and Popinga breaks down. He is now no longer the man who always used to watch trains go by while staying put, but hops on a train himself to start afresh and live on his own terms. And the reader accompanies him on his existential journey.

Simenon writes well. He never goes too deep into Popinga's psychology, but lets us understand his psyche by telling a lot of the story from Popinga's point-of-view. Popinga gets himself into a cat-and-mouse game with the police. He goes about playing this game objectively, thinking and planning out every move he makes. While Popinga takes pride in being so clear-headed and smart, the reader can only feel sorry for the poor fellow's foolishness. Whatever you feel about his actions, you can't help feeling pity for him. You want to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into his head. Like those times when you find yourself yelling at someone on your TV screen.
Simenon also sprinkles the plot with suspense which adds another interesting dimension to the story.

There are sure to be many Popingas in the world around us who are wearied of their stressful lives and wish to breathe free. ( )
  HearTheWindSing | Mar 31, 2013 |
Simenon was one of a long tradition of Francograph writers who churn out good books with relative ease - Balzac, Zola, Dumas(but he cheated and used ghostwriters). Simenon was used to the speed of some 10-40 per year! Makes Vollmann look like a obsessive haiku poet who only releases one volume every 20 years by comparison (No offense, Bill).

This book follows a perfectly respectable man from a perfectly respectable background who throttles people and goes on the run, and his misadventures. A murder mystery from the criminal's side. It's fascinating to see the guy crack. A cool irony throughout, and one which hits very close.

Now with Simenon, where do I go from here? ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
This book is the portuguese translation of the french original L'homme qui regardait passer les trains. A lovely story by the creator of the famous inspector Maigret. A fraudulent bankrupcy in a Groningen firm turns the respectable middle class Kees Popinga into an outcast in Paris, where his inner ghosts slowly overtake his logical mind and turn him into a paranoic personality. ( )
  FPdC | May 25, 2010 |
A respectable middle-aged office-worker becomes aware of the absurdity of human life and finds himself committing a motiveless violent crime. No, not Albert Camus, but Simenon, in 1938, four years before L'Etranger appeared.

L'Homme qui regardait passer les trains is not so much a conventional roman policier as a pursuit thriller coupled with a psychological exploration of what happens when we throw off all the shackles of conventional society. Although the subject is similar to L'Etranger, the technique is very different: instead of Camus's gaunt, spare prose we have a wealth of everyday detail about Kees Popinga's life both before and after the cataclysmic act. The story is, however, told almost exclusively from the POV of Kees, and Simenon (like Camus) effectively forces us to identify with the character. Simenon's approach centres on weaving together the details of Kees's calm and rational approach to avoiding arrest with hints of an increasingly paranoid state of mind.

This is a book that should resonate with modern readers: the background of the economic collapse of the thirties is becoming relevant to us again, and the picture of someone who faces losing job, home and pension because his boss has been siphoning off money from the company into unwise investments is not as dated as we might have thought ten years ago. What also struck me as very modern is the way the fugitive interacts with the press: reading about himself as "Le satyre d'Amsterdam" both infuriates and validates him, and he can't resist writing letters of complaint to the papers when they get things wrong about him. Eventually we realise that the policeman - who plays a key role throughout the book, even though he never directly appears in it - is manipulating the press for his own reasons as well. ( )
2 vote thorold | May 22, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Georges Simenonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Zallio Messori, PaolaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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As far as Kees Popinga was concerned, it cannot be denied that at eight that evening there was still time, his destiny still hung in the balance.
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Hardworking Dutch family man Kees Popinga loses his money when the shipping firm he works for collapses. Something snaps and from the shell of a modern citizen emerges a calculating paranoiac, capable of random acts of violence - even murder.

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